The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities, Doris Sommer, 2014
Sommer, the Williams Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard and the professor on our Argentina trip, makes the case for art and the humanities, both in their practice and in their interpretation or criticism, as important contributors to the civic dialogue. Acknowledging the increased level of conflict and problems in today’s society and the temptation to turn from the humanities to the more “utilitarian” disciplines, she urges the reader to have an “optimism of the will, beyond the despair of reason…(because it)drives life toward social commitments and creative contributions.” Making the case that education and creativity are necessary for civil society, Sommer urges support for art and aesthetic education as the motor for unconventional interventions. She cites efforts by politicians from the top down (the Bogota mayor’s mimes directing traffic) and artists from the bottom up (AIDS Action) as examples of how cultural acupuncture and creative interventions can change the dialogue. Relying largely on Schiller for her inspiration, the book makes a strong case for the humanities in this challenging time.